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No Future for Nostalgia

September 10, 2003

State Sen. Tom McClintock's current television ad nostalgically recalls California's golden days of the 1960s, when McClintock's parents brought him to the state. Low taxes, plenty of jobs, the announcer intones. McClintock, a Republican candidate for governor in the Oct. 7 recall election, asks, "Don't you think that we ought to go and get that state back?"

In like fashion, Arnold Schwarzenegger refers to the halcyon days when he moved to California. "When I first came to California 35 years ago," he says, "California was a place of dreams .... I believe we can restore that optimism and the dreams that were once fulfilled here."

Indeed, the California of the 1960s seems to have been a more idyllic place, in memory at least. The public schools were considered the nation's best, the park system was unsurpassed, libraries thrived, the University of California charged minimal fees to resident students. The freeway system was reaching its zenith. The state was building a world-class water project.

Alas, that was decades and more than 15 million people ago. There is no way California can return to an imagined yesteryear, even if any new state leaders want to.

The 1960s did offer a wonderful life for many. The suburbs were new and the three-bedroom home with barbecue in the backyard was largely affordable.

But the 1960s also gave California the Watts riots. The state didn't yet have fair housing laws. Farm workers, often aided by their families, toiled long hours in the fields using the crippling short-handled hoe. Tens of thousands of Californians had good jobs -- yes, fabricating machines for an unpopular war in Asia.

Southern California had barely begun the fight against the air pollution that palled the Los Angeles Basin. No one knows how many lives were shortened by the constant exposure to chemicals and particles in the air before pollution controls began to take effect.

And when Ronald Reagan became governor, he increased taxes by a record $1 billion at a time the entire state budget was only about $6 billion. When Reagan left office, state income, business and property tax rates were higher than they are now.

Now, the recall-supporting candidates are running against not only Gray Davis but the present California. There's plenty to fix in this state, but without a time machine in the campaign closet, a recall cannot take California back to rosier times, just backward.

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